'India always an important market for Australia': Brendan McClements of Visit Victoria

'India always an important market for Australia': Brendan McClements of Visit Victoria

In a conversation with Business Today, Brendan McClements, CEO of Visit Victoria, speaks about India as a source market, the T20 World Cup and what it means for Melbourne and his plans to attract more Indian travellers.

Brendan McClements, CEO of Visit Victoria Brendan McClements, CEO of Visit Victoria

Australia has always been a popular destination for Indian travellers, particularly the state of Victoria with Melbourne as the chief city. In the year ending December 2019, Victoria recorded 178,000 visitors with a 47.3 per cent market share making it the most popular Australian state out of India. We spoke to Brendan McClements, CEO of Visit Victoria, on the importance of India as a source market, the T20 World Cup and what it means for Melbourne and his plans to attract more Indian travellers. Excerpts:

BT: How important is India as a market for you? How have things changed post the pandemic?

Brendan McClements: The interesting thing about the pandemic from our perspective is that everything got reset to zero. Everyone had exactly the same market share. Everyone had exactly the same opportunity and it's been quite a bit of reflection from our side about thinking through our international strategy. India has always been such an important market for our country. There is such an enriching relationship between the two countries, not just for tourism, but also culturally. There is a significant Indian diaspora in Melbourne in particular, which has given us great family and friends' links back into this market.

The short answer to your question is that India is a very important market for us. And we are very pleased about how strongly India has come back already. Pre-pandemic India was our second-biggest source market, with China being the first. India continues to be our second biggest market. New Zealand is our largest market now. So in June, we saw 11,810 short-stay international trips from India to Melbourne, which was only 14 per cent down on the equivalent time period pre-pandemic.

When you think that the country is 58 per cent down and Victoria is 57 per cent down in that period, India is a real shining light for us in the current world.

Pre-pandemic Australia had half a million visitors from India in a 12-month period.

BT: What are your expectations and what all are you doing to promote Melbourne?

Brendan McClements: Part of the reason we are here just now is to connect with the industry here and get to understand in detail the market better than we did before. We really look forward to what's gonna come over the next few months, particularly as we head towards the T20 World Cup, which someone said to me today is going to be the biggest sporting event in the year -- India versus Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the 23rd of October. The T20 final will also take place at the MCG.

When the tickets went on sale, the game that sold the quickest was India versus Pakistan. So we look forward to welcoming a large number of Indians and the Indian diaspora.

So that for us is a great platform to talk about Victoria and continue to see the return of the Indian travellers to our state.

We have a tie-up with cricketer Rishabh Pant and Masterchef Australia runner's up Sarah Todd. Besides sports, we have a very strong food and wine culture.

As we roll out our campaigns we are saying that Melbourne has layers and layers of that urban experience that so many people look for and what better way to experience it, than when they're going to a cricket World Cup.

BT: What about the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne?

Brendan McClements: We were really pleased to be a supporter of the Film Festival this year. So yes, the film festival's been brilliant and it's an increasingly important part of how we work to help as many people understand what Melbourne has to offer from a travel perspective too.

BT: Are there any plans to invite Bollywood to come and shoot in Melbourne?

Brendan McClements: Yes, we're always open to that discussion. We're certainly keen to bring the Bollywood celebrity experience to Melbourne as well. We have had some films made in Melbourne already. We do see it as an attractive place to come. I think the state through a sister organization of ours Film Victoria is very active in the space of working with potential producers to use Melbourne as a backdrop for the Bollywood film as well.

BT: Are you targeting only the leisure traveller or also MICE and FIT?

Brendan McClements: So there are a couple of things. Our target audience is what we call high-value travellers now, they can be free and independent travellers, or they can be visiting family and friends. They can actually be international students. In June, again, we started to see the return of international students.  India is now the number one source of international students for Australia and Victoria in particular. So 8,800 students came this year.

So all of those people who, whether in a short stay, spend a lot of money or in a longer stay, still spend equally as much come under the high-value traveller. Now separately MICE is another part of our business. So we control the Melbourne Convention Bureau that goes out and works with conferences, and incentive organizers to bring meetings to Melbourne and actually that's turned out to be quite a lucrative opportunity.

We've already seen very good MICE business come from India in the last three or four months. We're thinking about upgrading our presence here to put a more permanent resource in India to deal with the MICE market because we're seeing a good response.